Today: Apr 21, 2024

Sports Commentary: The reason why Butler is back in the Final Four

Pete Paguaga, Sports Editor:
Brad Stevens looks like a fresh-faced college kid who could be walking around Southern’s campus today. But he isn’t. He is leading the Butler Bulldogs back to the Final Four for a second consecutive season, this season without last year’s lottery pick Gordon
Hayward. Also, did I mention that he is only 34 years old, and 11 years removed from playing college basketball?
Stevens became an assistant at Butler when he was 25, and six years later after Todd Lickliter left Butler for the University of Iowa, the Butler players wanted the new hire to be in-house. Athletic Director Barry Collier took their advice, and after interviewing the three assistants, decided on Stevens, then 31 years old. Two years later, and Stevens is going toe to toe with the greatest coach in NCAA history, behind John Wooden of course, Mike Krzyzewski, and his Bulldogs lost by two points. They were a Hayward shot, that if an inch or two shorter goes in and Butler beats Duke.
When Hayward declared for the NBA, Butler’s chances of going back to the Final Four became slim–I mean Hayward was their best player, and without him they wouldn’t be relevant, right? Wrong. Little did we know that it wasn’t a little luck and the play of one great player that led Butler to the Championship game, but that it was the guy on the sidelines.
In a game where top recruits stay for a year or go to the powerhouse schools such as Duke, North Carolina and UConn, it is absolutely amazing that Butler has repeated in going back to the Final Four, after defeating Florida in the Elite Eight this weekend.
You want to say that Butler got lucky, in their games in the tournament. I say that great teams win the close game and Butler has, having won every game this tournament by seven or less points.
The success that Stevens has had with the players he has been able to recruit before last season when they went to the Championship game has been short of miraculous.
The gym that Butler plays in was used in the movie “Hoosiers,” which was about a high school team. Butler doesn’t have the facilities that big programs do. Yet he has a 143-31 record as a head coach and now two Final Four appearances in five seasons.
Yes, I hear all the naysayers; well they play in the Horizon Conference, they don’t play in the Big East, blah blah blah, that means nothing. Year in and year out, Stevens coaches a group of kids that play as a team and want to win as a team.
Stevens deserves to be in the same conversation with the Krzyzewskis, Pitinos, Calhouns and Izzos. Whether Stevens stays at Butler or moves on to a big program, he is the real deal and the best up-and-coming coach in the sport of basketball.

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